Sciatica is a common low back problem that causes pain from a compressed or “pinched” nerve root in the spine that radiates (radiculopathy) into the buttock, leg, and foot, as well as tingling, numbness, and weakness along the nerve’s length. Because the sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, you can experience symptoms over your entire lower body.
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, Dr. Richard Bernstein and his team understand how frustrating and uncomfortable sciatica pain and other symptoms can be. That’s why they offer cutting-edge integrative treatment options for their patients in the Capitola, California, area. If you want to say goodbye to sciatica pain, here’s what you need to know.
What causes sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition of the lumbar (lower back) spine, one that 40% of Americans experience at one point or another during their lives. It may be caused by a variety of conditions, but all lead to a “pinched” or “compressed” nerve root, which gets the ball rolling.
As you get older, your body starts to suffer from cumulative wear-and-tear, and that includes your spine. Two of the most common sciatica causes occur much more frequently as you get older. The first is herniated discs, the intervertebral discs, which cushion the vertebrae and absorb the shock from movement, lose moisture, and crack. The inner gel-like material spills out, impinging upon the nerve.
The second is bone spurs, bony growths that occur when the protective cartilage on the facet joints breaks down. This causes friction from bone rubbing on bone and puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Excess weight puts a strain on your entire body, including your spine. A 2014 study found an association between being overweight or obese and developing sciatica. Adopting a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can help you shed pounds and reduce your pain while at the same time improving your cardiovascular and overall health.
Sitting takes a load off your legs, but if you sit too long, you put undue pressure on the sciatic nerve. Office workers and truck drivers are two populations with an increased risk of developing sciatica. And the risk increases further if your work setup isn’t ergonomically designed and/or you don’t maintain good posture while you work.
Also, jobs that require routine bending or lifting heavy objects increase your risk of developing sciatica, as they put an extra burden on your spine. To help protect your spine and its associated soft tissues, always lift from the knees, not the back.
Treating sciatica pain
The first and most important step is an appropriate diagnosis. Dr. Bernstein will typically prescribe diagnostic imaging studies after obtaining a thorough history and completing his examination in order to best determine an appropriate course of treatment.
Sciatica usually responds well to conservative and integrative treatment options. Our goals are to relieve your pain and improve the underlying problem(s) contributing to your condition.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, are a good place to start; reducing inflammation helps decrease pain. Other options include:
Osteopathic manual medicine (OMM)
OMM is a type of hands-on care in which Dr. Bernstein gently manipulates your body to relieve pain and improve function. This painless treatment includes stretching, light pressure, and resistance exercises.
Physical therapy (PT)
PT improves flexibility while helping to strengthen the lower back, pelvis, abdomen, buttocks, and thighs. It can serve as a standalone therapy option or be combined with other pain-relieving treatments.
Spinal decompression therapy
SpineMED® uses gentle distraction of the spine to separate the vertebrae impinging on the nerve root, relieving pressure and increasing the blood flow necessary to heal.
Dr. Bernstein also offers other non-surgical treatments, such as trigger point injections, infrared light or laser therapy, medication and/or nutritional supplement prescription, or a referral to other rehabilitation providers (Acupuncture, Feldenkrais therapy, Rolfing, Nutritionist, etc). If necessary, he may refer you to a pain specialist for a spinal interventional injections (epidural injection, facet blocks, etc), and/or a surgical consultation with one of the top specialists in their field based on your individual needs.
If you’re dealing with the pain and discomfort of sciatica, it’s time to come into Santa Cruz Osteopathic for an evaluation and effective treatment. Give us a call at 831-464-1605, or returning patients may book online with us today.